Thursday, April 10, 2014

Burn for Burn, Fire with Fire

There are many sayings about revenge, but the one that kept coming to my mind as I read these books was this one: Revenge is a dish best served cold.  Ironic that that saying is the one that best applies to book that have to do with fire: Burn for Burn and Fire with Fire.

To begin with, there are three teenage girls: Mary, Kat, and Lillia.  It is their senior year in high school, a year that is supposed to be full of fun, starry-eyed excitement, and big plans.  Those plans, for most seniors, include college, graduation, and one last year of freedom.  But for Mary, Kat, and Lillia, those plans are focused on revenge for past wrongs.

Lillia is one of the in-crowd.  She and her best friend Rennie run the cheer leading squad.  Lillia's little sister Nadia is on the squad, too, and she basks in her older sister's popularity.  Lillia doesn't have a boyfriend, but she has a close guy friend, Alex Lind, who she secretly wishes could be a little bit more.  Lillia and Nadia are rich - the kind of wealthy where everything comes easily, where they don't think twice about having the kinds of things others covet.  So what could Lillia possibly need revenge for?

Kat is a tough girl.  Unlike Lillia, not much comes easily to Kat.  Instead she has always been given scraps of attention, food, whatever is around.  She was raised by her father, and has an older brother who seems to be going nowhere.  She, too, has a connection with Alex Lind - they have spent the summer hanging out together, and suddenly their relationship has changed.  But that is no reason for revenge.  Her reason has to do with Rennie, Lillia's best friend.

And lastly, there's Mary.  Mary has just returned to Jar Island, where they all go to school, to live with her aunt.  As Kat and Lillia get to know her, she reveals her own desire for revenge and what has caused it.  Kat's story is full of friends who are not really her friends, cruelty, bullying and a final event that makes you want to cover your eyes.  This is how the fire starts smoldering.

When Kat, Mary and Lillia first become friends, Kat seems to be the ringleader.  As I mentioned before, she's a little bit tough, tougher than the other girls by far.  So it's Kat who talks the other two girls into coming together to help each other get revenge.  She talks Mary into it by emphasizing their friendship: "'I don't have to know you to see that you're a total mess over whatever happened, like, years ago.  And hey, it wouldn't be a free ride.  You'd have to get your hands dirty too.  But we'd be in it together.  The three of us.'" (p. 129).  That's all it takes.  Kat, Lillia and Mary agree to participate in the revenge plot, with the idea that they will take down one of their grudges at a time.

There were many times in the first 250 pages of Burn for Burn where I felt uncomfortable with the central idea of this trilogy.  Revenge felt a bit too mean-spirited for me, and the ideas the girls came up with seemed too extreme for what had happened to some of them.  And the girls are fairly single-minded in their pursuit of revenge.  It doesn't matter if people's reputations get ruined, their futures in jeopardy, or if they get physically hurt.  Once that fire starts burning, it is difficult to put out.

The events of both books are like a rolling stone - they just keep on gathering speed.  And I sort of wondered when one of the girls would start to speak up and put a halt to this process.  But the three girls have very different personalities, and they aren't exactly conducive to stopping revenge.  Those personalities combine into a perfect storm.  Mary is mild, quiet, and deeply hurt by the events that unfolded.  Although those events happened years ago, she cannot let them go, and they have brought her back to the island.  Lillia is more of a people-pleaser, and does not stand up for what she thinks.  For example, although most people believe she and Rennie are best friends, Lillia can't stand Rennie.  But it's easier to just go along with the flow, to let others believe what they want, to not rock the boat.  And Kat continues on with the revenge because she can see how the others' revenge plans can benefit her own.  It's sneaky, but also strong-willed.

As I said, I couldn't imagine how these girls could really feel so strongly about getting revenge.  Lillia's original revenge, in particular, feels a little petty.  Then, on Homecoming night, things change.  And while the revenge idea still made me feel a little discomfited, I was totally caught up in what happens to all three girls.  Secrets begin to be revealed, and they are shocking.  It is truly astonishing the lengths to which these girls will go for revenge.  I can't say anything more about these books without spoiling something, but it is can't-stop reading.

I am always interested in authors collaborating in the way Han and Vivian do.  According to the blurb on the back of Fire with Fire, the authors "met in graduate school in New York City and have been inseparable ever since."  When I read books that are co-written, I like to play "Spot the Seam".  The authors often split writing duties in some obvious way - one author writing in one voice, the other creating a different character.  But there are three main characters here (each with their own chapters in both books), and while I've read both authors' work previously, I couldn't decipher who wrote which character.  And that just made me keep reading!  I'm not sure if they created a hybrid tone for these books, but it was seamless and fascinating!

Another thing that I think works very well in these books is the genre-busting.  While these books are primarily realistic, school fiction, there is a...hint of something else.  Realistic and school fiction are my two favorite genres of teen fiction, and these books work particularly well.  But the introduction of another genre also is believable and clever, and totally surprising.  I was shocked by what happened and how that changed my reading of the novels.  Frankly, the switch took this series from one I would have enjoyed to one I wanted to blog about.

And, finally, perhaps the thing that I loved most - the island setting.  I know I've mentioned before that I spent two years living on Nantucket.  I still have a real fondness for islands, and am very familiar with how hard it is to change people's reputations in a small town.  These girls, particularly Kat and Lillia, have their reputations set before they are even old enough to care.  On the island, life is an open door (sorry!) for Lillia, and that door is locked tight against Kat, no matter what she does.  It is interesting to see how that affects each of them.

I sped through the second book, Fire with Fire, in record time, and will be waiting with bated breath for the third, Ashes to Ashes, which will come out next fall.  I can't wait to see how revenge plays out for these girls.

Burn for Burn.  Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2012.
Fire with Fire.  Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian.  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013.

both books sent by the publisher for review

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse

More than a year ago, I received an email from TOON Books, telling me about their Fall 2012 line.  Among those books was this title from Frank Viva, A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse.  I requested it immediately, because I loved Viva's previous book, Along a Long Road.  And when it came, it went right into my "To Blog" pile, because I was excited about it.  And sadly, there it sat.  Through two Cybils panels, through many,  many other blog posts, it sat in the pile.  And it wasn't because I didn't like it - it just always seemed like I was on deadline for something else or had another book I was really enthusiastic about.  And A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse waited patiently for me.

In the meantime, Frances and Gloria grew and changed.  They both are voracious readers now (just like their mama).  And while I am enthusiastic about this book, it truly belongs to Gloria.  In fact, at least once a week Gloria asks to take it to bed with her.  She also asks regularly when it will get out of my blog pile so she can keep it in her room for good.  So now it's time to talk about A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse so Gloria can finally get it for her very own.

One of the things I love best about Viva's artistic style is how he regularly breaks "out of the box".  The story begins on the endpapers.  As a ship sails through a series of icebergs, there is one sad question "Are we there yet?" With just four words, Viva manages to convey the length of the journey to Antarctica and the tedium of such a lengthy journey by sea.  On the title page comes the answer "Soon, Mouse."  It is in a differently colored speech balloon, to indicate a different speaker.  All you can see is the freighter, sailing placidly along under a midnight sky.

Once they "get there", Mouse and the other speaker (a young boy) peer over the side of the ship.  And all Mouse wants to know is "Can we go home now?"  The anxiety is evident in his face as he asks - whiskers sticking straight out in alarm, worry lines radiating around his wide eyes.  But the answer is "Not yet, Mouse."  The reader can plainly see that the trip does not agree with Mouse, even before he lists all the things that are difficult to do in the waves: "eat...sleep...kiss...draw...and stand!"  Mouse does not want to be there, and he doesn't care who knows it.

As his friend excitedly explores Antarctica, with its enormous sky, its penguins and whales, Mouse's familiar, repeated chorus is "Can we go home NOW?"  There is always the steady, patient reply "Not yet!"  The discoveries continue, until finally the ship sails off into the horizon.  And on the endpapers, one final question from Mouse: "Can we go back there soon?'

This is a fun book, a funny book.  Viva does a terrific job bringing Antarctica to the comprehension level of the youngest readers (it's marked Level One, which is defined as approximately K-Grade 1).  Mouse is the perfect foil  to the other explorer.  Not only does Mouse's repeated question help beginning readers decode the action, but his plaintive request will most likely sound familiar too.  Gloria quite often gets somewhere fun (a movie, a birthday party) and announces "I want to go home.".  Sometimes parents talk up an activity, and it isn't quite what the child has envisioned.  So many children can feel for Mouse and his preference for home.

I mentioned already that Mouse and his friend use a list style to give facts about the Antarctic.  It is a fun way to give a lot of information.  For instance, when Mouse friend notes "It is COLD out there, Mouse."  Mouse suggests that he needs "boots...mittens..a hat...a scarf...and a snowsuit!"  And quickly adds "Can we go home now?"  On many pages, four of the options take up one page.  Each choice in the list is in its own box, with bold, heavy black lines separating the panels.  The last choice is on its own page.  In the list of clothing,  Mouse is shown in each panel adding on more clothing also.  So by the end, in the snowsuit panel, Mouse looks quite silly indeed, peering out of one boot with mittens over his ears.  And those worry lines around his eyes haven't gone away.

Viva keeps the lists feeling fresh.  In a list of different types of penguins, each penguin is seen through a telescope, which gives the effect of an old-fashioned cameo.  A goldenrod line leads from one speech balloon to the next, guiding the reader's eye.  It keeps the sense of fun for new readers, and it is one of the things I appreciate most about TOON Books.  These are very visual stories, and this style suits Viva's graphic sensibility perfectly.

One final thing I loved about this book came at the very end.  In a page about the author, it is noted that this book was based on Viva's own trip to Antarctica on a Russian research vessel.  What an amazing experience!  But the blurb also notes that Viva, much like Mouse, became very seasick.  It forms a great connection between the author and the story, and can lead to some interesting discussion with children.  This could also be paired with simple nonfiction books about Antarctica to enhance their learning about this continent.

I can't wait to read other collaborations between Frank Viva and TOON Books.  This seems to be a natural, dynamic fit.  In the meantime, I started writing this post one afternoon, and then set my notebook down.  As soon as Gloria saw the book with my notebook, she started asking for it again.  I need to hit publish so she can have it back!

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse.  Frank Viva.  TOON Books, 2012.

sent by the publisher for review

Friday, March 14, 2014

Max Makes a Cake

Max is just like many other preschoolers I know.  He can do some things on his own successfully, like getting dressed, and singing the Four Questions for Passover in both Hebrew and English.  He can soothe and entertain his younger sister, Trudy, and even feed her a little.  One thing he cannot do on his own, however, is make a cake for his mom all by himself.  But his father is busy getting Trudy ready for a nap and can't help him yet.  Max just wants to get started. 

Michelle Edwards and Charles Santoso have teamed up in these pages to depict a perfectly real little boy.  The text rings with the tone of an exasperated child. "'Hurry,' said Max. 'We have a cake to make.'"  When his father starts back down the stairs after Trudy is asleep, Max calls "'Cake time'" and wakes Trudy again.  As a parent, I've been there many times before, where you get one child to sleep and the other child's exuberance wakes them.  Of course, Max has to wait again and he is rapidly losing patience.

Santoso's illustrations are also replete with Max's energy.  Max dashes from the kitchen to the foot of the stairs.  He taps his foot impatiently, shakes the special box of Passover cake mix.  He just.can't.wait.

Max has a brainstorm.  While they have gotten cake mix, they haven't gotten frosting, and he begins to experiment.  Max stirs together jam and cream cheese to make frosting, and he discovers that it tastes quite good.  It gives him the confidence to try a cake all on his own.

This is a warm, sweet look at family life.  As Daddy cares for Max and Trudy on this particular day, Mama is shown downstairs working in her studio.  There are great details in this story - Max stands on a stool as he mixes frosting, in front of a kitchen island lined with books and family odds and ends.  Their home isn't particularly neat and tidy - this is the house of a family that values their time with each other more than a perfect home.  Even though Max wakes up Trudy, his father doesn't scold him.  He simply goes back upstairs to to take care of her.  Max's father is also very capable of handling the daily routine on his own - a happy thing to see.

The subtext of this story is hurrying.  At the beginning, Max tells his sister that she will have to learn the Four Questions (as the youngest child, it will be her responsibility to recite the Four Questions, but right now she is far too young).  Trudy will also learn the Passover story.  Max explains it to Trudy this way: "'A long time ago, the Jews were slaves in Egypt.  When Pharaoh freed them, they had to hurry,hurry, hurry away with their bread on their backs.  The sun baked it flat like crackers.  That's what matzoh is."  It is Max who is in a big hurry during the story.  In fact, he wishes his dad would hurry up many times during the story (which is opposite what usually happens, where the adult wishes the child would hurry up!).  The Passover story is so nicely integrated into Max's emotions.  He feels that same sense of urgency.  And matzoh, one of the symbols of Passover, finds its way into Max's Hurry, Hurry, Hurry cake.

This is a picture book, but I love that it still has some age-appropriate back matter to help provide context.  There is an easy recipe for the Hurry, Hurry, Hurry cake, a more complete explanation of the Four Questions, and a slightly longer retelling of the Passover story.  All of these help make some of Max's story more understandable to children not previously familiar with Jewish culture.  And the recipe would be fun to make and customize after reading.

I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in the blog tour for this book.  I was also lucky enough to be sent an extra copy of the book for one of you!  The giveaway is below, and it will be open until March 21st.  Enter and win - I can't wait to share it with you!  If you'd like more information on the author, or want to follow along on the blog tour, click here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Max Makes a Cake. Michelle Edwards; illustrated by Charles Santoso.  Random House, 2014.

sent by publisher and Provato Events as part of the blog tour

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doll Bones

I'm going to start this blog post with a confession.  I couldn't read this book for more than six months.  It was sent to me by the publisher way back last June, and I was so excited to read it.  I do love Holly Black, and there had already been enough pre-publication buzz that I knew I wouldn't want to miss it.  But when I received it, the cover...well, it really freaked me out.  And I am a wimp about scary stuff.  So every time I would pick it up to read it, I would be afraid that I'd be up all night with nightmares, or...yeah, the cover really did it to me.

But that buzz I mentioned didn't go away, and it was quite often associated with the word "Newbery".  I knew I needed to get past my fear and dive in, because I would be sorry if I hadn't read it by the end of January.  Lo and behold, I finished it at the beginning of January and could grin when it won a well-deserved Newbery Honor.

The story begins with three friends - Zach, Alice and Poppy.  They've been friends for a long, long time, and one of the things they like to do best is play the game.  It's an ongoing, perpetually changing story that they tell and act out with a ragtag bunch of characters.  There are pirates, thieves, women raised by bands of carnivorous horses, and the Great Queen.  Most of the characters are action figures, bought at yard sales or thrift stores - the thief, Lady Jaye, is a repurposed GI Joe figure.  But the Great Queen is different.  The Great Queen lives in a glass-fronted display cabinet at Poppy's house.  She is a china doll who sits perched on the shelf. "Zach couldn't remember when exactly they'd decided that she was the Great Queen, only that they'd all felt like she was watching them, even though her eyes were closed..." (p. 8).  So they incorporated that creepy observation into their game.  The Great Queen had the ultimate power over the game - if a character displeases her, then they are cursed until they regain her favor.

This game has gone on and on, morphing in different directions over time.  But as the three friends turn twelve, things are changing.  Alice, who lives with her grandmother, is being noticed by boys.  Her grandmother is getting more controlling about what Alice wears and does.  Zach's father, who is back living with Zach's mom after having moved out three years ago, is focusing on Zach's basketball skill.  He doesn't approve of anything else.  "' You're growing up,' he said, which seemed to be one of those weird things adults would say sometimes, stuff that was really obvious and to which there was no reply." (p. 23).  And Poppy feels lost and left out more often - she has been growing up in a family with very little parental supervision, and she just doesn't seem to know where to go next.

Then Poppy and Alice come to Zach's house in the middle of the night and tell him an incredibly creepy story about the Great Queen.  Poppy has taken her out of the cabinet - "The Queen's dull black eyes were open, her gaze boring into his own.  He'd always thought she was creepy-looking, but in the reflected beam of the flashlight, she seemed demonic." (p. 62).  Then Poppy explains that she had a dream where she had seen a dead girl, who sat at the edge of Poppy's bed.  The dead girl told Poppy that she couldn't rest until her body was buried and that Poppy had to help her.  Even worse, it turns out that the dead girl is really the doll.  Her ashes have been made into the china doll.

There is a mystery surrounding this doll, of course, but there is also a quest.  The doll (and the girl) need to be buried in Liverpool, Ohio, which isn't far from where the three friends are.  So they set off to get her to Liverpool.  It's partly fear, sure.  The Queen (whose real name is Eleanor) told Poppy if she didn't help Eleanor, she'd get her.  It sounds ominous and no one wants to find out exactly what she means.  But even though they don't name it, they all know that this may be their last chance to play the game.

There is so much to talk about in this book.  One of Black's gifts is wiring a middle grade book that is scary, but not too scary.  There are definitely some creepy things going on.  At one point, Zach wakes up after they've spent the night outside, at a makeshift campsite.  "Turning, he saw the Queen resting in the dirt right behind his head, far from where she'd been the night before. ...Zach sprang up and scuttled away from her, his heart racing." (p. 113).  The campsite is trashed, with food scattered and a ripped sleeping bag.  There is never a real explanation for what happened - was it bears or other animals?  Was it the doll? The lack of a concrete explanation only ratchets up the suspense.  It doesn't help that just before he wakes to the mess, Zach has been dreaming about Eleanor as a little girl.  The fact that a china doll is seemingly controlling their trip through their dreams is also a little unnerving.  It's the sort of delicious discomfort and readers might enjoy without getting too scared.

One of the most interesting things about this book from my point of view is Black's choice of Zach as the narrator.  It's definitely not what a reader would expect, especially from the title and cover illustration.  They do indicate that the book will be scary (there are bones in the title and the doll on the cover looks very unsettling).  And yet the book is told from a boy's point of view.  As I continued to read and dwell on Zach as narrator, I realized he is actually a perfect narrator.  To the outside world, he is beginning to look like a jock.  He has grown very tall, and is playing basketball.  Poppy condemns him by saying "'You're going to be one of those guys who hangs out with their teammates and dates cheerleaders and doesn't remember what it was like to make up stuff.'" (p. 199)  But while Zach may appear that way to the outside world, we know that isn't the way he really is.  We know "That was why Zach loved playing: those moments where it seemed like he was accessing some other world, one that felt as real as anything.  It was something he never wanted to give up." (p. 3) So Zach isn't what he seems.  It makes him a really interesting character to me.

Another thing that struck me about the journey the three friends go on is how ingenious and creative they have to be to get anywhere.  They all pack quickly, and pack what they can get without alerting anyone to what they are doing.  It's the middle of the night, and they are trying to make the scheduled bus to Liverpool.  "When he finally went to the cabinets, he felt as though he was provisioning himself for one of those epic fantasy quests... " (p. 71).  And no matter how carefully they've planned (which isn't really very carefully at all), they are soon alone, out of money and supplies, and very far from home.  But the three friends believe in the quest, and each other.  They each have different reasons for agreeing to take this journey, but they are all determined to succeed.

This book was creepy, of course.  But it's also a great book about friendship, growing up, imagination, and creativity.  I would also note that there is a really awesome librarian in this book too!  Now I'll shelve this book with the cover facing the wall so I don't have to look at that doll.  But every once in a while, I'll want to check to see if it's moved.

Doll Bones.  Holly Black; with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.  Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013.

sent for review by the publisher

Friday, February 14, 2014

Family Dinner Book Club - Our Thoughts

I wanted to do a follow-up post on how Family Dinner Book Club went at our house in January .  If you read the post linked above, you'll already know that Frances was far more interested in listening to Winnie-the-Pooh than Gloria was.  This continued all month.  Gloria mostly read to herself in bed while Frances and I enjoyed the story together.

Before I get to our book club meeting, I want to talk about my impressions of the book.  I'm not sure I had ever read Winnie-the-Pooh all the way through previously.  I've certainly read excerpts, probably also chapters.  I have a very strong memory of listening to some of the story on audiocassette as a child, narrated by Sterling Holloway.  It is a little embarassing to admit that my experience of the book had been so heavily influenced by my knowledge of the Disney movie, but it was.  I was surprised at how some of the little songs Pooh sings (especially "I'm Just a Little Black Rain Cloud") weren't in the chapter book.  I know, I know - I shouldn't admit how much I am influenced by Disney, but I am.  I can't help it.

One of the other things that surprised me was Milne's writing style.  I was especially struck by his use of the word "carelessly".  One or another of the characters is always saying something "carelessly", most often Christopher Robin.  For instance, in the chapter "In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump", Pooh wonders what a Heffalump looks like. "'You don't often see them,' said Christopher Robin carelessly." (p. 56)  The first few times I read the word, I was taken aback.  It isn't a word that I use in that context at all - it seems that Christopher Robin says things carelessly when he doesn't want to be questioned about his authority on the topic. Here, it is what a Heffalump looks like - Christopher Robin doesn't know, of course, but he still wants to seem like he does.  His lack of a description causes problems for the rest of the group later on.  Once I noticed the word "carelessly", it seemed like all of them were saying things carelessly.  I hate to say A.A. Milne overused a word, but it came up frequently.  It may have been used so often as a combination of the British sense of language and the time period, but it makes me want to start saying things carelessly.  I'll let you know what happens!

One of my favorite things about this experience was how much Winnie the Pooh became a part of our daily lives.  Since we finished reading it, I have heard Frances say to herself several times "Think...think...think.", just like Winnie the Pooh often does.  And both girls watched children on TV throwing sticks over a bridge into a river and called out "Pooh sticks!" in unison.  So they were both really listening and internalizing this book.  It is a fun ongoing connection for us.

Even more fun was the night we celebrated our book club meeting.  Gloria was sick and pretty lethargic, and didn't have any interest in celebrating by the time we got started.  In fact, she fell asleep on the floor while Frances and I were eating.  That was fine because Frances and I got to really talk about the book.  We used the questions from Growing Book by Book, and they were great conversation starters for us.  We took turns answering them and really thinking about things.  I used the placemats and name cards from Enchanted Homeschooling Mom  , as well as decorating with some of our Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals (down at the end of the table).    For the dinner part of the meeting, I made the Baked Honey Chicken from Daisy at Home (which was delicious!), and added roasted carrots in honor of Rabbit.  I also made Tigger Tails (recipe in this post).  Here they are:

 Finally (and this was probably unnecessary), I made Peanutty Shortbread.  In the magazine article where I  got the recipe (also cited in that post), they cut the cookies into hives and decorated them with little bees.  Obviously way too much effort for me, especially considering Gloria was sick.  So instead I used a heart cookie cutter and tinted the frosting pink.  They turned out really cute, and lasted a week in our house, bridging the time between book club and Valentine's Day. 

It was a very fun night, and we can't wait for our next meeting.  The book has already been announced, and it is The Day the Crayons Quit.  We've already read it once, and are looking forward to our next meeting.  All of the questions, decorations and food will be posted tomorrow, but I already have a food idea.  Stay tuned for our next report!!

The World of Pooh: The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner.  By A.A. Milne with illustrations by E.H. Shephard.  E.P. Dutton, 1957.

book from our own collection

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Let's Find Out

Part of my New Year's resolution was to catch up on some blog posts that I had waiting.  My "blogging" pile has an assortment of books in it, ones I really liked.  But for one due date (a publisher's or blog tour's due date) or another (due dates at the library), I would move other books past them.  I'm looking forward to sharing some of them with you in the next week, including an honor book from the ALA Youth Media Awards!

Today I'd like to highlight a series I requested last summer from Black Rabbit Books.  Even then, the series (and another series that I blogged about), were from a webinar that School Library Journal hosted last spring.  This series "Let's Find Out" is perfect for the 1st - 3rd grade reader who is interested in learning about lots of different subjects.

I was sent three books in the series for review - Let's Bake a Cake, Let's Go to the Playground and Let's Read a Book.  They are all written and illustrated by Ruth Walton.  Each of them expands on the title topic.  Let's Read a Book starts with the subtitle - Find out about books and how they are made.  But the subject of creating books has lots of tangents - libraries, different types of writing, the creation of paper and ink... Walton spends two pages on each of these topics and more.  With just two pages to devote to each, most are not covered in-depth.  But there is a surprising amount of information covered there too.  On a spread that discusses how paper is made, there are many pieces of information.  There is the main text that gives an overview of the paper-making process.  The illustration depicts the steps that the wood goes through to become paper.  There is text in the illustration as well, giving additional information and overlaying some of the machinery to guide readers' eyes along the way.  There is a text box that describes how pulp is made.  Finally, there are photographs with captions showing a paper mill and paper ready to be used in a book.  That is an incredible amount of information to have in just one double-paged spread.

And that can be a drawback to young, inexperienced readers working through the text.  There is so information that it can be overwhelming.  I suspect that a new reader would need some guidance on how to follow the main text throughout.  But on the other hand, more accomplished readers can pick and choose what information they'd like to read among the many topics.  On a page about wheat in Let's Bake a Cake, there is a large diagram of a wheat grain, with the parts of the grain identified.  There are other pictures on the same page of foods made with wheat (besides the cake of the title).  These foods are very different, yet readers will immediately tie them together.  On the same page, Walton defines self-rising flour (which is called for in the cake recipe) for readers who most likely would have been unaware of the distinction.

All three books use bold text to indicate vocabulary words.  In Let's Bake a Cake, there are words like carbon dioxide, harvest, and durum wheat.  All of these words are defined in the glossary, located in the back matter.    In Let's Bake a Cake, besides the glossary, there is a world map with the chocolate cake ingredients marked in the locations where they grow.  There is also an illustrated recipe for chocolate cake and an index.

My favorite of the three is Let's Go to the Playground.  In this book, the subtopic is forces and motion.  The format just really seems to work in this title.  There are questions for readers - in a photo of children on a teeter-totter that includes a definition of a fulcrum, the text asks readers "Where do you think the fulcrum is?".  There are simple experiments in this book and information that Frances and Gloria found really useful, such as what makes you go down slides faster (clothes made of smooth or shiny material, in case you were wondering).  The book seems to be more simple than the other two, with less information on each page.  It made this title easier for us to interact with and I felt like we learned a lot more from that.

The illustrations are done in a variety of media.  Mostly, Walton collages elements together.  In the picture of the children on the teeter-totter, the children and teeter-totter are a photograph, collaged into a park scene.  The grass, bushes and dirt are other photos, used in unusual  ways.  I'm not quite sure what the photo representing dirt was originally, but it's been manipulated to look more patterned.  Unless you are looking very carefully at the picture, you might miss all the details that go into the harmonious whole, but they are worth noticing.  There are lots of those details to pore over, and I believe they help catch the reader's eye.  A reader who might be speeding through the book, not paying much attention to anything but the main text, will be drawn in by the details and go back to learn more.  And the wide range of informational presentation in these titles will help attract readers of all learning styles.

These are the sorts of books that help springboard young readers.  As overwhelming as I sometimes found the information, the number of topics will be sure to interest any child, and may lead them into other, related topics.  They will work well within the Common Core implementation beginning across the nation, too.  Thank you to Black Rabbit Books for sharing them with me.

Let's Bake a Cake. Ruth Walton.  Sea-to-Sea Books, 2013.
Let's Go to the Playground.  Ruth Walton.  Sea-to-Sea Books, 2013.
Let's Read a Book.  Ruth Walton.  Sea-to-Sea Books, 2013.

sent by the publisher for review consideration

Monday, January 20, 2014

Family Dinner Book Club

I just wanted to take a moment to share something fun Frances, Gloria and I are doing this January (and hopefully all year long).  We will be participating in Family Dinner Book Club!

The girls and I have many routines and weekly traditions - one of our favorite weekly traditions is Movie Night.  Every Saturday night we have Movie Night.  The girls have a huge collection of movies, and we pick one to watch, which can be a challenge!  Then I serve an assortment of snacks for dinner, so we can graze while watching the movie.  It helps us reconnect after they've spent a couple of days with their dad, and it helps reorient then to our shared rules and expectations.  There are very few Saturday nights where we don't have Movie Night, and when we don't, we all miss it.

And part of our daily routine, of course, is our nightly reading.  We usually read four picture books or easy readers - about twenty minutes.  Sometimes we include a chapter from a chapter book. Some nights we don't.  Gloria usually doesn't want to listen to more than a couple of pages of a chapter book, so she'll re-read a picture book while I read or play nearby.  But Frances loves chapter books and it's a good way to develop both their reading and listening skills.

So when I saw something about Family Dinner Book Club, it definitely piqued my interest.  I have always loved participating in book clubs, and I thought it would be a fun way to talk about books with the girls.  I wish I could remember how I first heard about this (maybe a tweet at the beginning of the month?), but once I read Jodie's post, I was raring to go!

Even better, the book this month is Winnie-the-Pooh.  We already had a copy, so we could start immediately.  Also, this book holds a special place in our hearts, although we had never read it aloud.  One of the girls' favorite snacks comes from Frances' third birthday party. It had a Winnie-the-Pooh theme because I had recently gotten a magazine (Phyllis Hoffman Celebrate!, Winter 2010) that had a Winnie-the-Pooh tea party in it.  They love Tigger Tails now, and they are frequently requested at our house.  The recipe is easy, in case you want to make them too.

Tigger Tails
1 14 oz bag orange candy melts
1/2 c vegetable shortening, divided
1/2 14 oz bag chocolate candy melts
1 10 oz bag pretzel rods
In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine orange candy melts and 1/4 c shortening.  Microwave on High in 30 second intervals, stirring between each, until melted (about 1 1/2 mins).  In a separate microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate melts and remaining 1/4 c shortening, microwave on High, stirring between each, until melted (about 1 1/2 mins).
Dip each pretzel rod into orange mixture to coat; place on parchment paper to dry.  Decorate with melted chocolate.  Store, covered, in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 
They'll look something like this when they are done:

We'll definitely be adding this beloved recipe to our feast.

And one of the great things about this book club is that it is hosted by three different bloggers.  Jodie provides the discussion questions.  Jill is providing unbelievable decoration ideas , including acorn bumble bees and a Pooh Bear hanging from a balloon - so cute and I can't wait to get started!  And of course Sarah is offering delicious foods for the dinner table, including Baked Honey Chicken - yum!  I love the thoughtfulness that went into all three bloggers' contributions and can't wait to keep reading with them.  There is also a Facebook group that I joined.  They've made participation as easy as possible!

Although A.A. Milne's birthday was Saturday, and would have been a natural day to have book club, we are going to wait to have our book club meeting until the end of the month.  Frances and Gloria can't wait.  But we still have chapters left to read before we get there.  I'm sure we will coordinate Movie Night around book club too.  Please join us in the Family Dinner Book Club!!